Nike Releases Gloomy Labor Report …
Nike Inc. has just done it.
Almost 10 years after allegations first surfaced that Nike’s contractors were exploiting workers in Asian sweatshops, the world’s biggest athletic-shoemaker has responded, and how.
In a 108-page report last week, the Beaverton, Oregon-based company presented a surprisingly frank audit of labor conditions at 569 of 830 factories worldwide where Nike-branded footwear, apparel and sports equipment are made.
Nike’s “corporate responsibility” report doesn’t make for a pretty picture. From excessively long workweeks and wrong wage calculations to verbal abuse and curbs on toilet visits, the findings confirm a pervasive culture of exploitation.
At risk are as many as 650,000 workers in factories located from Australia and China to the U.S. and Vietnam. A majority of them are women between the ages of 19 and 25.
So has Nike scored a self-goal by publishing the report? Isn’t Chairman Philip Knight running the risk of alienating at least some customers who might now want to buy their sneakers from niche competitors who wear their ethical credentials on their sleeves, such as Boston-based No Sweat Apparel, whose goods come with flyers stating the wages paid to the Indonesian workers who made them?
Knight’s candor is probably backed by sound business acumen. An honest acknowledgement of lax labor standards is a much required first step to make labor-rights activists and the media appreciate the sweatshop problem for what it is: an industry-wide menace that was neither created by Nike nor can be solved by it in isolation.